Student | Teacher | Healer | Gardener | Entrepreneur | Contemplative
I am writing this in our FIFTH week of sheltering at home in San Diego, California during ‘The Great Pause’ of 2020. What an opportunity for introspection!
I have used this assignment as an exercise in self-reflection and a process of self-discovery. To quote David Byrne of the band ‘Talking Heads,’ “How did I get here?” Thankfully, I came of age long before computers, the Internet, iPhones, unlimited cable, and streaming T.V. I recall the excitement when favorite authors released new books and musicians released new vinyl albums. I can still feel the joy of reading the liner notes on album covers, cross-referencing musicians, songwriters, and producers from one album, one band to another. I always loved the smell of a newly unwrapped hardcover book. I enjoyed walking through the stacks in libraries with a destination determined after perusing the card catalog and deciphering the code of the Dewey decimal system.
I have always loved reading. With this request to participate in the No B.S. SPIRITUAL Book Club, I clearly see how books helped influence, shape, and steer my development from being a rather naïve kid from the Midwest into whatever it is I am now.
I was born in 1950 into an educated, intellectual, politically liberal, reform Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio. I attended a citywide, integrated college prep public high school. The spring of my senior year in 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. My city, indeed around the entire nation, mass riots erupted. Machine-gun-toting National Guard soldiers patrolled my neighborhood. Although as a younger child I had already lived through the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, this killing of Martin Luther King and the subsequent events when I was 17 years old marked the end of my innocence.
I enrolled in Oberlin College as a pre-med chemistry major. I had wanted to be a doctor since I was about 5 years old. During the summer of 1969, I worked at Cincinnati General Hospital as an orderly, providing direct patient care and supporting the nursing staff. I had the ‘blessing/curse’ of being in college and eligible for the military draft during the Vietnam War. When I returned to college for my sophomore year, clearly, dramatic change was in the air! During the autumn of 1969, I enrolled in a world religion course as an elective to my chemistry major. This seemingly minor decision set off a chain of events that I never anticipated and which changed my life path dramatically.
In the spirit of the No B.S. Spiritual Book Club, I will now proceed to use 10 significant books I have read as guideposts for helping me to understand the path I walked to where I am now.
RICHARD GOLD, PhD., L.Ac. graduated from Oberlin College in 1972 with a B.A. in World Religious Studies. After graduation, he spent the next five years living as a hermit in a log cabin on 100 acres of forested land in Hart County, Kentucky. During this time of solitude, a sudden impulse awoke in him to study acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. When he learned that the first state-approved school of acupuncture had opened in the Boston area, he emerged from his solitude and re-located to Boston.
Since his graduation from the New England School of Acupuncture in 1978, Richard has devoted his professional career to continued study, practice, teaching, researching, and publishing in the field of East Asian medicine.
In 1986, he was one of the four founders of the Pacific College of Health and Science (originally the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine), where he served on the board of Directors and the academic and clinical faculty for over 20 years.
Richard has done advanced studies in China, Japan, and Thailand, and has published two books: Thai Massage: A Traditional Medical Technique, and Seitai (Lymphatic) Shiatsu, Cupping and Gua Sha for a Healthy Immune System. Following a chance meeting with world-renowned composer and performer, Yuval Ron, while both were teaching at the Esalen Institute in 2011, he and Yuval founded Metta Mindfulness Music, a music production company devoted to creating original music informed by ancient wisdom traditions and modern neuroscience to support healing and mindfulness.
Currently, Richard continues to practice clinical acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, and serves as the President and Executive Producer of Metta Mindfulness Music and on the Board of Directors of the California Institute for Human Science.
My 10 Best
The Way of Zen
by Alan Watts
In the autumn of 1969, an acquaintance at Oberlin stopped me in the hallway of the dorm and gave me this book to read. From my perspective, this was a completely random act. I neither requested the book nor commented on it prior to it being handed to me with the kindly admonishment to READ THIS NOW. Looking back, I see that this book lit a fuse in my being that caused a revolution in self and awareness. Alan Watts introduced me to ideas of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism that I had never previously encountered. Watts writes beautifully and is able to capture the essence of complex thought and communicate it for a beginner’s mind to have a chance at comprehension. Two key ideas I still recall are that conventional knowledge is such because it’s based on social agreement as to the codes of communication. But those conventions are illusory and man-made. And in Zen, spirituality is not to think about God while peeling the potatoes, it is to simply peel the potatoes.
In the spring of 1972, my senior year, Alan Watts spent a few days at Oberlin on invitation from the World Religions Department. By this time, I was no longer a chemistry major having switched to the study of World Religions. The department head asked me to serve as the host for Alan Watts, making certain he was well fed and he was where he was required to be on time. This gave me the opportunity to have private time with this remarkable man. What an honor and a blessing! Years later, I taught a workshop in the Alan Watts teaching space at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
The Teachings of Don Juan; A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda
My academic studies in anthropology were very profound and eye opening. Becoming aware of the extent that culturalization and language shapes awareness and perception was intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually riveting. I read this book as part of my first class in Anthropology.
This book is a combination of the personal experiences of Carlos Castaneda’s fieldwork as a graduate student in Anthropology at UCLA in the early 1960s and a systematic, scholarly analysis of those experiences. Prior to reading this book, I was totally unaware of hallucinogenics, shamanism, and spiritual apprenticeship. Coincidentally, my encounter with this knowledge coincided with a ‘flood‘ of hallucinogenics on campus. In the spirit of those times, to quote the author Ken Kesey, “you are either on the bus or off the bus.” I chose to get on the bus. My experiences were not 100% wonderful, but they certainly were intense and deeply felt. This was the first time in my life that I became an observer of Self. The lessons were important and came at me with astounding rapidity. The integration of the lessons into my being and personality was a bumpy road to navigate. Thankfully, here I am, 50 years later, being able to re-visit those transformative times with a clear head and a calm mind.
‘Jesus of Nazareth’
by Günther Bornkamm
When I stopped being a pre-med student, I dove into academic religious studies. I was simultaneously searching for an understanding of the great religious traditions and my own religious/spiritual beliefs. A core inner conflict I faced was my understanding of Jesus Christ and the Church in relation to my being Jewish.
Although I grew up and was educated in a very diverse community, I always felt threatened by Christianity. Keep in mind, as a baby boomer born in 1950, World War Two and the Holocaust were a palpable reality in my home and the Jewish community I was part of. I decided to face my fears directly and enrolled in a course entitled, “The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ” taught by an eminent academic scholar, Professor Thomas Frank. The first book assigned was Bornkmann’s Jesus of Nazareth.
Bornkamm was an unapologetic German critical scholar. Bornkamm’s position was that we cannot, nor should we attempt a “biography’”of Jesus Christ. This did not mean that we couldn’t know anything about Jesus’s life and ministry.
Bornkamm was known and respected as a form critic and sought to gain historical knowledge behind the gospel text. As such, he abandoned much in the way of traditional theology. By getting at the historical knowledge, Bornkamm sought insight into the true Jesus and his meaning for today. Bornkamm’s writing was carefully reasoned and presented in a non-polemical manner. He sought through reason to avoid controversial argument and avoid opinions and doctrine.
He affirmed: “If the journey into this often misty country is to succeed, then the first requirement is the readiness for free and frank questioning, and the renunciation of an attitude which simply seeks the confirmation of its own judgments arising from a background of belief or of unbelief.”
I found this approach to be very unthreatening and conducive to dialogue and greater understanding. Ultimately, I loved this course and felt a degree of liberation from fears I had been carrying since childhood. I came to highly respect the teachings of Christ and felt that these teachings were available to me while remaining outside of the Church and Church doctrine.
What the Buddha Taught
by Walpola Rahula
From my first exposure to Buddhist thought, I was intrigued by the straightforward, practical wisdom it presented. With my academic studies, I came to understand that, as with all religions, a great deal of interpretation and cultural influences pervaded the spread and development of Buddhism. When I began to read Dr. Rahula’s book, his introductory statement that I include here immediately comforted me:
“I have aimed at giving briefly, and as directly and simply as possible, a faithful and accurate account of the actual words used by the Buddha as they are to be found in the original Pali texts of the Tipitaka, universally accepted by scholars as the earliest extant records of the teachings of the Buddha. The material used and the passages quoted here are taken directly from these originals.”
In this book, almost everything which is commonly accepted as the essential and fundamental teaching of the Buddha is included. These are the doctrines of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Aggregates, Karma, Rebirth, Conditioned Genesis (Paticcasamuppada), the doctrine of No-Soul (Anatta), and Satipatthana (the Setting-up of Mindfulness).
Upon completion of this book, I felt more grounded in my understanding of Buddhist thought and more inclined to see myself on the path of Buddhism. In my mind, I could remain culturally Jewish and spiritually Buddhist. Around this time, I participated in a month-long meditation retreat led by a Buddhist monk from Thailand. The most significant lessons I learned from this experience were the importance of developing a meditative mind and how difficult meditation was for me.
Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching
translated by J. Legge (1891)
My encounter with the Tao Te Ching set off a seismic reaction in my heart and mind. Also known as the Book of the Way, this ancient text is the classic manual on the art of living. In a poetic writing style, it imparts advice on living a life of balance through awareness that balance is achieved with the recognition of the dynamic influences of polar opposites known as Yin and Yang. Key aspects of this theory are:
1. All things have two facets: A Yin aspect and a Yang aspect
2. Any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang.
3. Yin and Yang mutually create each other.
4. Yin and Yang control each other.
5. Yin and Yang transform into each other.
6. There is a ‘seed’ of Yin within Yang and a ‘seed’ of Yang within Yin.
This dialectical logic is used to explain relationships, patterns, and the unceasing reality of change. Key aspects of this theory continue to resonate within me and influence my career and work.
In retrospect, I can see how this early encounter with the Tao Te Ching helped set the stage for my subsequent interest and immersion in Chinese medicine and acupuncture.
The Web That Has No Weaver
by Ted Kaptchuk
In 1977, an entirely new phase of my life began when I left Kentucky to start my education in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Boston. At that time, there was a paucity of English language information on the subject. The master teacher at the school, Dr. Tin Yao So, utilized his own unpublished teaching manual as our primary text. Dr. So was an inspirational teacher and clinician. He was very pragmatic and result-oriented, and not very interested in theory or philosophy. A few months into the term, a new class was announced that was to be taught by an American who had just returned from years studying in China. This teacher was Ted Kaptchuk. What Ted taught us in 1977-1978 was the material that formed the basis of his landmark book, The Web That Has No Weaver, first published in 1983. This book is the classic English language introductory text that explains how a traditional form of medicine with roots going back over two millennia can be relevant and applicable in modern healthcare. The book demystifies the worldview of Chinese medicine and explains the theory and philosophy of it, as well as methods of diagnosis and treatment in terms that can be understood by a Western reader.
This book is very well written and can be an enjoyable read for anyone with even a limited interest in the field. In addition, it covers fundamental information that any serious student of the medicine needs to know. Over the years, I have recommended it to numerous patients who seek to have a deeper understanding of Chinese Medicine and Chinese philosophy, and have included it as a required text for all introductory level students of acupuncture, East Asian body therapy, and Chinese medicine.
The study, practice, and teaching of Chinese Medicine is the foundation of my professional career and also an important component of my spiritual path.
Mystics and Zen Masters
by Thomas Merton
My encounter with the modern mystic, Thomas Merton (1915-1968), was an exceptionally dramatic event in my life: spiritually, intellectually, and in my life direction. Merton was the most well-known proponent of the Christian contemplative tradition in the 20th Century. I read it as part of a seminar class at Oberlin in 1971. At that time, I was struggling with a growing interest in Asian spiritual traditions that appeared to be a direct challenge to all my previously held beliefs and culturalization. In this book, he discusses diverse religious concepts—early monasticism, Russian Orthodox spirituality, the Shakers, and Zen Buddhism.
Merton writes: “All these studies are united by one central concern: to understand various ways in which men of different traditions have conceived the meaning and method of the ‘way’ which leads to the highest levels of religious or of metaphysical awareness.”
What I especially appreciated was the thoughtful way and with deep personal insight, Merton communicated how East and West meet when it comes to mystical pursuits. For Merton, it was not a question of either/or, but of how at the highest and deepest level of personal mystical experience there are unifying principles that transcend particular religious traditions.
As powerful as Merton’s influence on my thinking and spiritual endeavors was, it was in my life choices at the time, where his influence was even more profound.
At the age of 26, Merton left a life of urbanity and excess to become a silent Trappist Catholic monk at the Gethsemani Abbey in rural Kentucky. Merton’s decision to commit his life to spirituality in a rural environment resonated strongly in my confused, searching mind.
What occurred with me was at the age of 21 I moved to rural Kentucky to live in a log cabin as a hermit on an isolated 100-acre wooded farm. Quite frankly, I was totally unprepared emotionally, spiritually, and physically, and even lacked the skills that were required to be successful. And yet, little by little I endured and developed adequate competencies to survive and even progress. I lived in that wooded valley for five years, through freezing winters and boiling summers. I heated and cooked on a wood stove. I learned to garden and to can fruits and vegetables. I became a nationally-registered Tree farmer and managed my 100-acre forest. I learned to build. I learned to live in isolation and deprivation. It was in this log cabin that I awoke from a dream one winter day with a burning desire to study acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
Whole Earth Catalogue edited
by Stewart Brand
To many, especially those born after about 1980, this will seem a strange choice to include in this list. Published for the first time in 1968, The Whole Earth Catalogue was the Google of its time for anyone interested in the emerging counter culture, environmentalism, back-to-the-earth self-sufficiency, and new approaches to community and education. Whole Earth Catalogue eschewed politics and pushed grass-roots direct power, tool,s and skills.
The 1968 catalog divided itself into seven broad sections:
• Understanding Whole Systems
• Shelter and Land Use
• Industry and Craft
Quoting the Editor:
“Purpose. We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.
The Whole Earth Catalogue provided me with the information and resources I needed in order to be able to survive in my Kentucky life. In addition, it helped me feel less like an outlier. There clearly was a back-to-the-land movement alive and well in America.
The practicality expressed in the Whole Earth Catalogue was vital to me. My move to Kentucky was based on yearnings of my mind and spirit. My formal, academic education in no way prepared me for the day-to-day realities of survival on the land. My spiritual development was dependent on my physical (and psychological) survival.
During my years in Kentucky, I had a serious yoga and meditation practice. An important lesson I learned in my study of Zen Buddhism is: “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
What this says to me is that achieving a version, even getting a momentary experience of “enlightenment” is not an endpoint in and of itself. Day to day life continues. We need to do the same things afterward in order to keep moving forward. I learned many life lessons during this time of my life, many of which continue to inform me 45 years later.
Not surprisingly, The Whole Earth Catalogs disappeared as soon as the world wide web and blogs arrived
The Power of Now
by Eckhart Tolle
In 1971, Ram Dass’s book, Be Here Now was a sensation, captivating the hearts and minds of spiritual searchers in the West. This book was a counter-cultural must-have book. Of course, I read it and found it fascinating, but it was in large part his personal journey and did not feel personally accessible to me.
Fast forward now to 1997, when I read Tolle’s best-selling book. For me, there was a direct segue from Ram Dass to Tolle as exemplified by the similar titles of their books. Tolle’s book felt highly accessible and relevant to my daily personal life. It had an energy infused in it with the power to create an actual experience that could radically change my day-to-day life. It read like a spiritual guidebook.
The core message, that our emotional problems are rooted in our identification with our minds and our persistent tendency to not live in the present moment totally resonated with me. It re-affirmed for me the vital importance of meditative practice. The essential ability to be able to simply watch without attachment the moment-to-moment race of thoughts, the what if’s, the planning, the mulling over past hurts and challenges is key to advancing psychologically and spiritually.
I am very appreciative that the book also describes methods of relaxation and meditation to aid in anchoring in the present.
Finally, as a teacher of body therapy and acupuncture, I very much liked that Tolle’s approach to mindfulness emphasized the importance of a heightened body-awareness and a groundedness in our physical being.
The Biology of Belief
by Bruce Lipton
For the past 50-plus years, I have considered myself as being a on a dedicated spiritual path: a quest for greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of life and my life’s purpose. At no time, though, did I turn away from science and the incredible discoveries that science uncovers to reveal the majestic mysteries of life on Earth and of our Earth in the cosmos.
Bruce Lipton’s book, first published in 2008 was an absolute game-changer for me. This was my first encounter with the concept of epigenetics, the study of how changes in organisms are caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. This concept removed the idea of pre-determination based on genetics. It demonstrated that genes and DNA do not control our biology; that instead DNA is controlled by signals and the physiology from outside the cell walls, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts and beliefs. This concept revolutionizes our understanding of the link between mind and matter. This links cell physiology and function to the spiritual and psychological side of life. This is the conceptual bridge for a scientific framework for the mind, body, and spirit connection. This is the foundation for a consciousness-based understanding of biology.
The primary message of this book is a clarion call for personal responsibility.